San Antonio Basic Income Supports Participant Housing, Transportation

Estimated read time 6 min read

When Monique Gonzalez received her money from the San Antonio guaranteed basic income pilot, she bought school supplies, shoes, and Christmas gifts for her children.

The mother of six said the program allowed her to afford things her family had “put on the back burner” because they didn’t have the money. Gonzalez told UpTogether — a national nonprofit that has sponsored a series of GBI programs — that basic income was what she needed to invest in her children’s future.

San Antonio is one of several cities nationwide piloting guaranteed basic income programs. The programs offer no-strings-attached cash payments to low-income individuals over a set time period. Participants in cities including Denver, Austin, Boston, Minneapolis, and Durham have reported using the money to secure housing, afford transportation, buy groceries, pay off credit card debt, and drop second jobs. Some programs, like the one in Denver, have been so successful that their funding was extended.

UpTogether led San Antonio’s pilot, investing $5,108 in each of the 1,000 individuals and families participating over a 25-month period. Program participants had household incomes that fell below 150% of the federal poverty line — which is $46,800 for a family of four — and many were facing financial hardship or job loss because of the pandemic. Participants received an initial $1,908 payment in December 2020, followed by eight quarterly payments of $400 between April 2021 and January 2023.

Funding for the program came from the City of San Antonio, foundations, and private funders.

“We have more opportunities to be happy, content, and healthy,” Gonzalez said.”This helped to eliminate a lot of the stressors we have.”

San Antonio participants felt happier and more supported by basic income

Program leaders in San Antonio surveyed participants throughout their time in the program, and 79% said the cash payments have positively impacted their lives. Many said the money was critical for their daily survival and allowed them to cover expenses they otherwise couldn’t afford.

Ingrid Sullivan, a participant with four children and three grandchildren, told UpTogether that basic income allowed her to secure housing and reliable transportation. She said the program allowed her to find financial security with dignity and help pay for her family’s needs.

“I felt supported for the first time ever,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t know what it felt like before this.”

San Antonio participants also told UpTogether that the GBI payments significantly improved their mental health. Many survey respondents said they experienced chronic stress from the pressures of living below the poverty line. With some of that financial worry alleviated, nearly 40% of participants said they spent more time with loved ones and became more involved with their communities.

For participants with families, many said their extra income went to enrolling their children in after-school and extracurricular activities and supporting their educations.

“I was able to do more at times because I was able to get my bills met,” one survey respondent said. “In turn, I had extra money to be able to spend on my children to take them out or get them what they needed or wanted.”

The San Antonio pilot also provided program leaders with feedback. In the survey, participants said future income programs should provide payments monthly instead of quarterly and provide more opportunities for in-person connection with other participants and the community.

Texas is a national leader for income programs, but GBI continues to face opposition

Texas has been a major state for GBI pilots. So far, Austin, San Antonio, and Harris County — which includes Houston — have launched pilot programs distributing between $400 and $1,000 a month.

The Austin Guaranteed Income Pilot, which kicked off in May 2022, distributed $1,000 a month to 135 low-income families using funding from the City of Austin and philanthropic donations. Austin was the first Texas city to launch a taxpayer-funded guaranteed-income program.

A report from the Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, DC, found that GBI participants spent more than half of the money on housing, allowing some to purchase their first homes or more easily afford rent. After the yearlong program, participants also reported being more food secure, as the number unable to afford a balanced meal fell by 17 percentage points.

Stephanie Hendon, 34, was living in a shelter with her four kids while working long hours, but within a year of the program, she secured a three-bedroom apartment, purchased a new car, bought clothes for her children, and locked in a new job. She said she was also more financially savvy and believes she’s on the right path to financial stability while spending more time with her kids.

However, the program wasn’t a major success for every participant. Jessica Nairns said the program helped her advance her professional career and buy essentials, though she is still unhoused a few months after the program. She said she’s grateful for the temporary assistance she received, though she couldn’t invest money for the long term or find more secure housing.

Harris County, where over 16% of residents live below the poverty line, provides participants in its pilot with $500 a month for up to 18 months. Officials are pulling from over $20 million of federal COVID-19 relief to fund the Uplift Harris project, which has been met with some Republican opposition.

Texas State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican, called the Harris County program unconstitutional, and suggested that income programs give out “money like popcorn.”

South Dakota lawmakers recently introduced a bill to preemptively ban all state and local income programs, which bill sponsors called a “socialist idea” and “one-way ticket to government dependency.” A similar ban has been proposed in Iowa.

In Arizona, GOP leaders are passing another statewide ban. The predominantly Republican state House approved the GBI ban, and it will soon be heard by the state Senate. Republicans say they are worried income programs will raise taxes and make people overly dependent on government assistance.

“Is money a birthright now? Do we just get born and get money from the government? Because I think the Founding Fathers would say that is very contrary to our capitalist system and encouraging people to work,” Arizona state Rep. John Gillette told Business Insider.

Despite legislative resistance, GBI programs continue to be launched in new cities — one focused on new moms in Flint, Michigan launched on January 10.

Even so, program leaders in San Antonio identified that GBI cash payments are only a step toward combatting poverty.

Basic income helped participants in Texas and other states to meet their basic needs, the UpTogether survey report said, but they often can’t fix long-term financial challenges. For participants to thrive over time, people also need access to educational opportunities, stable employment, and healthcare.

Have you benefited from a guaranteed basic income program in San Antonio or elsewhere? Are you willing to share how you’re spending your money? Reach out to these reporters at and